Sunday, November 13, 2005


U.S. accuses SIU of anti-white bias
November 11, 2005
President Bush's administration has threatened to sue Southern Illinois University, alleging its fellowship programs for minority and female students violate federal civil rights laws by discriminating against whites, men and others.

In a move Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said "just doesn't make sense," the U.S. Justice Department charged that three SIU programs that aim to increase minority enrollment in graduate school exclude whites, other minorities and males, in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act.
"The University has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males,'' says a Justice Department letter sent to the university last week and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
The letter demands the university cease the fellowship programs, or the department's civil rights division will sue SIU by Nov. 18.
The U.S. Justice Department alleged last week that three fellowships at Southern Illinois University discriminated against whites or white males:
FELLOWSHIP: Bridge to the Doctorate Started: 2004 Award: $30,000 stipend, plus $10,500 for education expenses Purpose: "For underrepresented minority students to initiate graduate study in science, technology, engineering and math.'' Budget: $985,000 Number of awards since inception: 24 (19 blacks, 5 Latino, 1 Native American)
FELLOWSHIP: Proactive Recruitment and Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow Started: 2000 Award: Tuition waiver and $1,200 monthly stipend Purpose: "To increase the number of minorities receiving advanced degrees in disciplines in which they are underrepresented.'' Budget: $158,000 Awards since inception: 78 (61 blacks, 14 Latinos, 1 Asian, 2 Native Americans)
FELLOWSHIP: Graduate Dean's Started: 2000 Award: Tuition waiver, $1,000 monthly stipend Purpose: "For women and and traditionally underrepresented students who have overcome social, cultural or economic conditions.'' Budget: $67,000 Awards since inception: 27 (16 whites, 7 blacks, 4 Latinos)
SOURCE: Southern Illinois University
SIU Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said he supports the programs, denied they discriminate against any students and confirmed the university sent a letter Wednesday seeking a meeting with federal officials to talk about their concerns.
Similar programs challenged
He declined to say whether the university would fight in court or submit to a consent decree, as requested by the Justice Department.
"I don't think that discriminates against whites, but that's part of what we need to talk to them about,'' Wendler said. The university has "lots of other fellowship programs that are open to all people."
The Justice Department sent a letter to SIU in August asking for information on eight fellowship or internship programs at SIU and information about faculty hiring.
The Carbondale school earlier received a request from the Center for Equal Opportunity, an anti-affirmative action group that has been challenging similar programs around the country and that has complained to the feds about some of SIU's programs.
"I don't think there's any way that Southern Illinois can defend these programs legally, and I don't understand why they'd want to run a program that refuses to consider some individuals on the basis of their skin color," said Roger Clegg of the conservative think tank.
The Justice Department targeted three graduate programs: the Proactive Recruitment and Multicultural Professionals for Tomorrow fellowship, the Graduate Dean's fellowship and the Bridge to the Doctorate fellowship.
The first two are funded by the university, while the Bridge program -- which aims to increase the number of minorities in the sciences, math and engineering -- is funded by another federal agency, the National Science Foundation.
Nearly 8 percent of SIU's 5,500 graduate students are black or Hispanic.
'Pretty cynical in its motive'
A spokesman for the Justice Department's civil rights division declined comment Thursday, but Illinois' junior U.S. senator ridiculed the maneuver as a "cynical" bid to distract public attention from Bush's sagging popularity.
"One of my concerns has been with all the problems the Bush administration is having, that they'll start resorting to what they consider to be wedge issues as a way of helping themselves politically," Obama said.
"If anything, the White House should be doing everything it can to encourage more engineering students and Ph.D.'s. It strikes me as a completely unnecessary and divisive move and one that I think may be pretty cynical in its motive," Obama said.
Pat McNeil, an assistant dean and administrator of the Underrepresented Fellowships Office, said she knows of no white students who have applied for the Bridge or Proactive Recruitment programs.
The Web site describing the Bridge program specifically says it is only open to members of underrepresented minority groups. Several white women who have "overcome hardship" have been awarded the Graduate Dean's Fellowship, even though women outnumber men at the university. White men need not apply, however. "I'll be upfront with you -- no white male will get this award,'' McNeil said.
But McNeil defended the programs as helping bring minority students to campus and ensuring their success. "We are making higher education accessible to folks that traditionally have not had the opportunity,'' McNeil said.
Many other schools across the country have similar programs. But Wendler didn't think his school was being used as a test case to weaken affirmative action nationally.
"I don't have any reason to suspect that,'' he said.
Civil Rights Act, court ruling cited
The U.S. Justice Department alleges that three graduate fellowships at Southern Illinois University violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Legal experts say a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action at the University of Michigan also applies.
In a 2003 decision, Grutter vs. Bollinger, the court said in a 5-4 ruling that race could be included as a factor in determining admissions, but not the sole factor. Every application needs to be considered on an individual basis, which would make excluding people solely based on race problematic, said Mark Cordes, a professor of law at Northern Illinois University.
"The court said you can't categorize people purely by race, and everybody has the right to compete for seats in admissions,'' he said. "The same thing would apply to a fellowship. At that point, you aren't treating people as individuals.
"Any special program that is limited to only members of a particular group or several racial groups is highly suspect.''
Dave Newbart

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